About a week ago my brother-in-law spotted a little notice in the local paper advertising the Supreme Court of Western Australia’s open day. So today the whole family packed into one car and headed up to Perth to take a look round.
The open day was to mark 150 years of the Supreme Court in WA and was surprisingly popular! Our first stop, the Old Court House (1837), now the Old Court House Museum was packed with visitors. We shuffled through with the throng. The building had been used for many purposes over the years, a school, a concert venue, a public meeting venue as well as a court (it was used as the Arbitration court as late as 1963). The architect was Henry W. Reveley, a civil engineer who was one of the earliest architects in the colony. I was amused to see that in the days when the building shared the functions of school and court:
When the court was in session the pupils, under the stern gaze of their teacher, retired to the gallery where they followed the proceedings in absolute silence.
Bishop Dom Salvado of New Norcia held the most memorable [ibid] concert in the building, having walked 100km from that monastic town to give a piano recital to raise funds for the Benedictine Mission.
We moved into the main court building (designed by John Grainger, who I was surprised to learn was the father of Percy Grainger). There were many visitors and many court staff acting as guides. We followed the arrows and went into Court 3 where we were disconcerted to find that one of the guides was Supreme Court Judge Justice Ralph Simmonds, who gave an informative and amusing talk about the operation of the court! The court was packed, and he did note that it was unusual to have five defendants at one time, especially with children amongst them – a family had sat in the dock to listen to the talk! The number of judges has increased over the 150 years from 1 to 22, however if they had kept pace with population growth there would now be 150! [The Supreme Court of Western Australia 1861 -2011 : administering justice for the community for 150 years / The Honourable Wayne Martin, Chief Justice of Western Australia, p31]. We were also referred to May it please your honour / Geoffrey Bolton if we wished to know more (and as a good librarian I noted it all down!).
I made a short detour to see the Law Library, in a wing added in 1987 and usually only open to eligible users, before rejoining my family on the tour. The old library in the old building had been converted into Judges’ rooms and a conference room. A bank of what appeard to be cupboards in one room evidently conceal a wardrobe, kitchenette and bathroom – however we were informed that they did let the Judge go home at night! In the conference room we were facinated by a display telling of trial of Audrey Jacob for the shooting of Cyril Gidley at a ball in the neighbouring Government House Ballroom in 1925. Audrey was acquitted, which seemed odd given the evidence presented, but then I remembered the hangman’s noose we’d seen in the Law Museum and thought perhaps the jury had not wished to see an obviously disturbed, and beautiful young woman hang…
In Court 1 we heard the end of a talk by Justice McKechnie, ABC TV’s documentary On trial had been filmed in that court, the programme goes to air next Thursday. We were impressed that such senior members of the profession had welcomed the public into their workplace, emphasizing that the courts are our courts, and encouraging us to come and watch a trial.
We left that court down the steep stairs leading directly from the dock to the concrete, steel and security glass of the holding cells (renovated following a breakout in 2004) eventually exiting through the sally-port (what a lovely medieval name for the prisoners entrance!)
If you want to know more this edition of The law report is a good place to start!
We went on for a quick look at Government House ballroom (scene of the tragedy mentioned above but also of more happy memories) and two of the reception rooms in Government House, more rooms are usually opened but today only the Executive Council Room and the dining room, as they are preparing for the new Governor and have a rather important visitor coming later in the year…